Strategic plan released by state

Strategic plan released by state
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Northwest Tennessee, and specifically Obion County, has a new strategic plan for economic development.
The 12-page plan was released last week by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, earlier this year, announced plans to decentralize economic development efforts in Tennessee. State officials divided the state into nine regions and set about establishing specific goals for each region.
Blake Swaggart, with the state Department of Economic and Community Development, was named the regional director for northwest Tennessee. This region is made up of Obion, Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henry, Lake and Weakley counties.
Through a series of meetings involving state, regional and local economic development officials, a regional economic development plan has been developed. The plan focuses on four strategic areas: recruitment, existing industry outreach, innovation and workforce development.
The process of developing the strategic plan involved updating county profiles and expanding statistical data for counties in the region. In the executive summary of the strategic plan, northwest Tennessee is identified as having 127 major employers with 100 employees or more.
“Healthcare continues to be a fast-growing segment of the economic base, and the region continues to be Tennessee’s breadbasket, with approximately 61.6 percent of the land in the region currently being used for agriculture,” the executive summary states in part.
The strategic plan for northwest Tennessee includes a regional overview, regional strategies and a list of four action items.
“Recruitment is an essential element to the regional strategy,” the report states. “Based on existing industry and natural resources within the region, target industries such as the automotive sector, food sector and alternative energy industries are deemed as opportunities for recruitment.”
The report outlines a three-fold plan for innovation, which includes entrepreneurial development, agriculture/natural resource development and digital factories.
The bioprocessing industry is identified as having tremendous job creation potential for the region and the digital factory model is also identified as having potential for the region.
“Currently, Gibson County’s leadership is actively pursuing the digital factory approach that has been displayed effectively in other regions,” the report states.
In a broad overview of the region, the report identifies such assets as northwest Tennessee being geographically located near the center of the U.S. population with “a robust mixture of road, rail, air and water corridors.”
The report goes on to specifically cite the $53 million Port of Cates Landing under construction in Lake County, the region’s access to interstates, the development of I-69 and the progress being made on the designation of four sites in the region as Foreign Trade Zones.
“Obion County is a unique area that strikes a balance between agriculture, manufacturing and education,” the report states. “Committed to business and industry, Obion County is home to the Northwest Tennessee Regional Higher Education Center, a 28,000-square-foot industrial training facility for advanced manufacturing. Obion County is enriched with hunting and fishing at Reelfoot Lake and Discovery Park of America, which will open in 2013. Obion County is fully quadra modal with access to CN Railroad, Everett-Stewart Regional Airport, U.S. Highway 51, future I-69 and the Port of Cates Landing.”
Statistically, Obion County’s population of 31,807 people represents 12.5 percent of the region’s population count of 254,605. Obion County is identified as having a 15.6 percent unemployment rate and 2,710 available workers as of October 2011.
Obion County plays prominently into the region’s economic development strategy because of the former Obion County Industrial Training building in downtown Union City. The facility would be launched as the new Northwest Tennessee Regional Higher Education Center under the state’s strategic plan.
The state’s strategic plan envisions developing the local facility with the help of “training partnerships.”
“The comprehensive career and training center will house staff representing various partner agencies,” according to the workforce development section of the plan.
The report also recommends identifying “target sectors and regional assets” and establishes a goal of branding and marketing the region. Key economic development officials across the region will be involved in hosting a “familiarization tour” for key economic development partners, and developing strong relationships with site consultants is identified as an important strategy.
A total of 31 agencies at the state, regional and local level are listed as “regional partners” in the report.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com. Published in The Messenger 12.22.11

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